"Elizabeth Arden New Zealand," said the directive from on high, get a makeover." Pick a charity, said the cosmetic company's global head office, and support it.
Along with other cosmetic firms, the New Zealand company was already donating make-up to Look Good, Feel Better workshops for women with cancer. There was to be a different blush, however, on the new association. Elizabeth Arden was to stand out from the cosmetic crowd by standing alone in support of its chosen charity.
But which one? General manager Valerie Riley consulted the Robin Hood Foundation, an organisation that has brokered partnerships between the business and community and voluntary sectors for the past five years.
Business sponsorship or, to give it its newer and grander title, corporate social responsibility, is not so much a seat-of-the-pants decision. Less prey to the lottery of "chairman's choice", it's now more likely to arise from a robust, strategic process that produces a fit with the company's values, says Robin Hood's dynamo chief executive Jude Mannion.
"What's evolved in the past five years is trying to get an intelligent fit between what a business stands for in the business world and what it stands for in the social world."
And for good reason, she adds.
"We now have research that proves people will buy or not buy your brand based on how they view your social reputation. It's a real vote or veto.
"It's a long-gone piece of history that businesses do good to feel good. We can prove that doing good is good for business. We can prove that consumers will switch brands and support businesses that have a social reputation as opposed to those that don't."
Leanne Holdsworth, of Holistic Business Solutions, a consultancy specialising in corporate social responsibility, agrees the business sector is maturing in the way it handles its sponsorship decisions.
Auckland-based Holdsworth has worked with a range of organisations on the issue since 2000 when she wrote a book on chief executives in New Zealand and Australia who were doing well by doing good entitled A New Generation of Business Leaders.
The road show around both countries that followed the book's publication, however, proved a difficult sell.
"I still do quite a bit of speaking on this subject," she says seven years on. "It's so much easier to have an audience who will hear you now. There's been an absolutely noticeable shift,"
As Riley at Elizabeth Arden can attest, Holdsworth says multinationals are now demanding their subsidiaries worldwide improve their performance and report on their social actions.
"What I've noticed over the past seven or eight years is an increase in the multinational pressure which has affected the privately owned organisations in New Zealand," she says. "At the beginning we were seeing more New Zealand organisations leading the way. Now the organisations doing more edgy stuff are those that have the multinational pressure to do so."
Not just pressure from overseas. In February, New Zealand companies had the chance to study under Richard Steckel, a quietly spoken American with an international reputation as a consultant on nonprofit marketing and for-profit strategic corporate citizenship.
It is the second time in two years that Auckland University has offered short courses by the co-author of Making Money While Making a Difference, a guide for corporations on market-driven community involvement.
Business is undergoing a natural evolution, Steckel says.
"There used to be a licence to practise business given in England years ago," he says. "Businesses had a check list of what they had to be mindful of. Most started out with a social agenda. They weren't there to just make lots of money they were there to change society."
Organisation specialist Charles Handy, who with photographer wife Elizabeth last year published The New Philanthropist, profiling business people who had turned social entrepreneur, also believes business is going full circle. …